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Former NBA star licks cancer, plays funky jazz at holiday show

Wayman Tisdale has always feels he can achieve anything. Add beating cancer to his list of accomplishments.

The jazz musician and former NBA player was diagnosed last spring with cancer in his knee. By autumn he declared himself fully recovered and began performing again.

“It’s been such a great thing to set your mind on something and never waver on what you want in life and refuse to take no for an answer,” Tisdale said.



The cancer was just another chance for Tisdale to succeed.

“I had to go through a whole summer full of treatments and chemo and other things to get to where I am today,” he said. “To top it off, they had to have an operation to replace part of the tibia and replaced the knee.”



Tisdale’s return to health will bring him to the Hyatt Regency on Friday. He will perform with Dave Koz & Friends, A Smooth Jazz Christmas 10th Anniversary Tour. The Incline Village performance will start a tour across the country until Christmastime.

Tisdale’s on-stage presence is a striking contrast to other musicians.

“This is the world’s shortest tour; it’s going to be very funny when you see us on stage,” Tisdale said. “Kimberly Locke, David Koz and Jonathan Butler are all the same height, and here I am at 6-9. They all hit me at my waist.”

Tisdale also stands out when listening to his music. He’s a bass player with a singular sound, but he is not a novelty. He belongs on stage with all those short people.

The five-string bass Tisdale uses is tuned a couple of octaves higher than a typical bass. His tenor bass sounds much like a vocalist or saxophone.

“I had a lot of naysayers, but I think that’s what helped me out the most,” he said. “It was unique. That’s what got the career really started.

“To be accepted as a musician is one thing but as a bass player being the lead instrument, it’s a rare exception. You can pretty much name the bass soloists on one hand who have been able to come into the industry and had success. I attribute my success to the fans listening to what I was about and very sincere in how I was approaching music. This was my life.”

Tisdale, in fact, had always planned to be a musician. He took up basketball after the bass, which he played as a youth in church. But he became so accomplished on the court that Tisdale’s musical career would wait.

At the University of Oklahoma Tisdale lead the nation in scoring and rebounding. The three-time All-American went on to play in the 1984 Olympic Games then 12 years in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.

So what are the toughest arenas in which Tisdale has performed?

“Playing Chicago back in the day with Michael Jordan and in Boston with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and of course showtime with the L.A. Lakers,” Tisdale said. “Tough venues musically? I enjoy all the venues. The stage is my home. It’s even a more natural fit for me.”

And funk is the musical style that best fits Tisdale. His seventh album, “Way Up,” includes Cool and the Gang’s “Get Down On It,” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay.”

“I’m a throwback to the funk era,” he said. “Since day one that’s been my whole thing. I had a theme and a concept coming into the music game, and I’ve never stepped away from that.”

Tisdale says his music is a combination of what he listened to growing up — jazz and ’70s funk. And obviously Tisdale has grown a great deal. Just look at him. But as tall as he his, the characteristic that most stands out is his omnipresent smile.

“I love to have a great time,” Tisdale said. “If you are doing what you love to do, you never work a day in your life.”


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